Photo by Everett Ayoubzadeh
By Mary Pattock
Science advances by way of approximations, errors and biases—not despite them. This is one of William Wimsatt's iconoclastic opinions.
Wimsatt is a philosopher of biology, a scholar of global prominence. He holds CLA's Winton Chair Visiting Professorship, which encourages research and creative work that challenge established patterns of thought; he is also a member of the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science. His long-time academic home is the University of Chicago.
The name Wimsatt is synonymous with the philosophy for limited beings, a school of thought that addresses the phenomenon of error-prone human beings trying to understand a messy—in fact, infinitely complex—world.
The title of his most recent book provides a clue to a fundamentally practical approach—Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality (Harvard, 2007). In it he maintains that thinkers must root their work in real-world experience, so their theories will apply not only in principle, but also in practice.
Since his arrival at CLA in 2010, he's taught graduate and undergraduate courses and seminars on the philosophy of science, and has led discussions of the Biology Interest Group (BIG), a project of the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science.
Next fall he will collaborate with faculty in the College of Science and Engineering on a seminar on cultural and technical evolution, where he plans to integrate concepts from evolutionary developmental biology with those of cultural evolution.
"I have been proud to be associated with the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science over the last several years," he says. "MCPS continues to reflect its illustrious origin as the first center for philosophy and science in the U.S. and I have found it particularly valuable to participate in BIG, where we discuss and debate aspects of philosophy and biology. MCPS resonates with my orientation in the philosophy of science."
Watch Wimsatt interview at z.umn.edu/wimsatt